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Release dateJun 1, 1977

Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) was an American photographer, writer, and patron of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Van Vechten was raised in a wealthy, highly educated family. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Chicago to study art and music, and spent much of his time writing for the college newspaper. In 1903, he took up a position as a columnist for the Chicago American, but was fired three years later for his difficult writing style. He moved to New York in 1906 to work as a music critic for The New York Times, focusing on opera and taking a leave of absence to travel through Europe the following year. Van Vechten’s work as a critic coincided with the careers of some of the twentieth century’s greatest artists—the dancer Isadora Duncan; Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlovna; and Gertrude Stein, a writer and one of Van Vechten’s closest friends. Van Vechten, who wrote an influential essay titled “How to Read Gertrude Stein,” would become Stein’s literary executor following her death in 1946. He is perhaps most notable for his promotion and patronage of some of the Harlem Renaissance’s leading artists, including Paul Robeson and Richard Wright. In addition to his photographic portraits of such figures as Langston Hughes, Ella Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, Marcel Duchamp, and Frida Kahlo, Van Vechten was the author of several novels, including Peter Whiffle (1922) and Firecrackers: A Realistic Novel (1925).

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